The Sad Story of Elvis Presley's Senior Prom

Liaison/Getty Images
Liaison/Getty Images

In 1953, Elvis Aaron Presley was an 18-year-old senior at Humes High School in Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis's date for the senior prom was the girl he was courting, a 14-year-old named Regis Wilson—a pretty, petite blonde with a big smile.

Wilson had a crush on Elvis, whom she considered "a gentle soul, but all boy—he kind of had this swagger to him." Elvis dressed differently than his classmates, often donning extremely colorful, loud pants and shirts, not at all the fashion for the typical male in the conservative 1950s. "He would show up in outfits that were so flashy I would open the door and blink my eyes," Wilson recalled in a book by Alanna Nash about the women in Elvis's life.

His hair was already unorthodox—heavily greased and slicked back into a ducktail, including sideburns running almost down to his chin. Still bearing the last vestiges of teenage acne on his face, though, Elvis was so shy he would sometimes stutter when faced with certain social situations. But if Elvis felt like an alien among other teenagers most of the time, he was never so out of place than on the night of his senior prom at the swanky (and segregated) Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis.

"It was the most exciting thing I had ever done," Wilson recalled. "I felt like Cinderella getting ready to go to the Royal Ball." The excited 14-year-old had picked out a pink taffeta dress for $14.98 and accessorized it with pink shoes. Strapped for money, she had her hair done for free at the beauty college across the street from the Peabody. As she sat in the beauty chair, she excitedly looked at the Peabody Hotel across the street and said to herself, "Just think, in a few hours from now I'll be back here all dressed up."

Although most of the other boys wore white tuxedos, Elvis chose a relatively conservative dark blue suit. And he did have on a pair of blue suede shoes (no kidding!). He showed up at Wilson's door in a shiny rented Chevy, also dark blue, paid for with the money he had saved by ushering at the local movie theater. Shyly, as Wilson blushed, Elvis pinned a pink carnation corsage on her dress.

As the couple entered the Continental Ballroom at the Peabody, the band was playing, and couples were already out on the dance floor. But Elvis steered Regis to a seat and offered her a Coke.

"I can't dance," Elvis apologized shyly. (Wilson remembers him perspiring under his jacket.) Wilson took it that he didn't dance because he was so religious and sweetly replied, "That's all right." And so they sat out the entire night, talking and sipping on soda pop while watching the other couples.

Finally, they lined up with all the other couples for the grand march, stepping through a mammoth heart as their names were called and their picture was taken. In the photo, Wilson managed a half-smile, but Elvis looks as stiff as a soldier, peering solemnly into the camera.

Elvis apparently made no attempts to socialize. But Elvis promised Wilson they'd have more fun afterward at Leonard's Barbeque, where they'd meet some of his pals and go on to a party. They drove out and waited, but nobody ever showed. Wilson could tell it bothered him, and finally, chagrined, Elvis took her home.

A few weeks after the prom, Elvis dropped by Wilson's house to see her and found that she and her family had simply vanished.

Wilson's mother, financially strapped, had decided to move the family to Florida to live with her relatives. Wilson said she was "embarrassed" to tell Elvis she was moving. She couldn't bring herself to tell him how bad their financial situation was. Besides, she recalled, "Girls didn't call boys in those days," so she never said goodbye.

In the family's move to Florida, Wilson lost her photo from their prom date. But Elvis always kept his, and a few years later his mother gave a copy to a fan magazine. By then, Elvis Presley was a teen heartthrob and a national sensation, with very specific dance moves all his own.

Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.

Unraveling the Many Mysteries of Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline'

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

The story of Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline" has it all: love, baseball, Kennedys, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and the triumph of the human spirit. It’s pop’s answer to the national anthem, and as any karaoke belter or Boston Red Sox fan will tell you, it’s way easier to sing than "The Star-Spangled Banner." As the song celebrates its 50th birthday this year, now’s a good time—so good, so good, so good—to dig into the rich history of a tune people will still be singing in 2069.

"Where it began, I can’t begin to knowing," Diamond sings in the song’s iconic opening lines. Except the "where" part of this story is actually pretty simple: Diamond wrote "Sweet Caroline" in a Memphis hotel room in 1969 on the eve of a recording session at American Sound Studio. By this point in his career, Diamond had established himself as a fairly well-known singer-songwriter with two top-10 hits—"Cherry Cherry" and "Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon"—to his name. He’d also written "I’m a Believer," which The Monkees took to #1 in late 1966.

 

The "who," as in the identity of the "Caroline" immortalized in the lyrics, is the much juicier question. In 2007, Diamond revealed that he was inspired to write the song by a photograph of Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John F. Kennedy, that he saw in a magazine in the early ‘60s, when he was a "young, broke songwriter."

"It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony," Diamond told the Associated Press. "It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there.” Years later, in that Memphis hotel room, the song was finally born.

Neil Diamond sings the National Anthem prior to Super Bowl XXI between the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos at the Rose Bowl on January 25, 1987 in Pasadena, California
George Rose/Getty Images

Perhaps because it’s a little creepy, Diamond kept that tidbit to himself for years and only broke the news after performing the song at Kennedy’s 50th birthday in 2007. "I’m happy to have gotten it off my chest and to have expressed it to Caroline," Diamond said. "I thought she might be embarrassed, but she seemed to be struck by it and really, really happy."

The plot thickened in 2014, however, as Diamond told the gang at NBC’s TODAY that the song is really about his first wife, Marsha. "I couldn’t get Marsha into the three-syllable name I needed,” Diamond said. "So I had Caroline Kennedy’s name from years ago in one of my books. I tried ‘Sweet Caroline,’ and that worked."

It certainly did. Released in 1969, "Sweet Caroline" rose to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the decade that followed, it was covered by Elvis Presley, soul great Bobby Womack, Roy Orbison, and Frank Sinatra. Diamond rates Ol’ Blue Eyes’ version the best of the bunch.

"He did it his way," Diamond told The Sunday Guardian in 2011. "He didn't cop my record at all. I've heard that song by a lot of people and there are a lot of good versions. But Sinatra's swingin', big-band version tops them all by far."

 

Another key question in the "Sweet Caroline" saga is "why"—why has the song become a staple at Fenway Park in Boston, a city with no discernible connection to Diamond, a native of Brooklyn?

It’s all because of a woman named Amy Tobey, who worked for the Sox via BCN Productions from 1998 to 2004. During those years, Tobey had the wicked awesome job of picking the music at Sox games. She noticed that "Sweet Caroline" was a crowd-pleaser, and like any good baseball fan, she soon developed a superstition. If the Sox were up, and Tobey thought they were going to win the game, she’d play the song somewhere in between the seventh and ninth innings.

"I actually considered it like a good luck charm," Tobey told The Boston Globe in 2005. "Even if they were just one run [ahead], I might still do it. It was just a feel." It became a regular thing in 2002, when Fenway’s new management asked Tobey to play "Sweet Caroline" during the eighth inning of every home game, regardless of the score.

At first, Tobey was worried that mandatory Diamond would lead to bad luck on the actual diamond. But that wasn’t the case, as the Sox won the World Series in 2004, ending the "Curse of the Bambino" and giving Beantown its first title since 1918. In 2010, Diamond made a surprise appearance at Fenway to perform "Sweet Caroline" during the Red Sox's season opener against the New York Yankees. He wore a Sox cap and a sports coat emblazoned with the message "Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn."

 

A different mood greeted Diamond when he returned to Fenway on April 20, 2013, just five days after bombings at the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured nearly 300 others. "What an honor it is for me to be here today," Diamond told the crowd. "I bring love from the whole country." He then sang along with the ‘69 recording of the song, leading the crowd in the "Ba! Ba! Ba!" and "So good! So good! So good!" ad-libs that have essentially become official lyrics. Diamond also donated all the royalties he received from the song that week, as downloads increased by 597 percent.

The Red Sox aren't the only sports team to have basked in the glory of "Sweet Caroline." The song has become popular with both the Penn State Nittany Lions and Iowa State Cyclones football squads and has even crossed the Atlantic to become part of the music rotation for England's Castleford Tigers crew team and Britain's Oxford United Football Club.

Over the last five decades, millions of people have had their lives touched by "Sweet Caroline" in one way or another. The enduring popularity must be a pleasant surprise for Diamond, who had no idea he’d written a classic back in 1969. "Neil didn't like the song at all," Tommy Cogbill, a bass player at American Sound Studio, said in an interview for the 2011 book Memphis Boys. "I actually remember him not liking it and not wanting it to be a single."

Elvis Presley’s Lincoln Limousine "Family Car" Is Hitting the Auction Block

Elvis Presley not only liked peanut-butter-bacon-and-banana sandwiches, he also loved cars. The King owned more than 100 automobiles, including several limos. Whereas most of his cars—and his plane—have been preserved at Graceland, one of Elvis’s lesser-known and most sentimental cars has almost been forgotten. Atlas Obscura reports that Presley’s 1967 Lincoln Continental Executive Limousine by Lehmann-Peterson will hit the auction block in Monterey, California, on August 15, courtesy of Mecum Auctions.

“Colonel” Tom Parker, Presley's manager, gifted the limo to Elvis and Priscilla on their wedding day in 1967. For the '60s, it featured a lot of advanced amenities, like air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, power windows, a power antenna, and a power front bench seat. Over the years, it became known as the Elvis Presley Family Car. Elvis’s imprint is all over it: The limo’s Tennessee license plate reads “1-Elvis,” and comes with a copy of the car’s original title application, with Elvis’s name on it.

But since Presley’s death in August 1977, the car has fallen into disrepair—dust covers the black exterior and interior. In 2014, the car was found in car collector James Petrozzini’s collection after Petrozzini died. As Mecum Auctions states, Petrozzini liked to use the limo to pick up his son and his friends from school while wearing a chauffeur’s hat and white gloves.

If you’re interested in bidding, Mecum Auctions recommends calling for an estimate. For comparison: In 2018 Presley’s 1971 Mercedes-Benz sold for $116,600.

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